To Binge or Not To: Does it Even Matter?
June 10, 2022
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by Stephen Kanyi

Streaming has all but completely replaced television. Today more and more people are choosing to watch their favourite shows and films via streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. With TV on its deathbed, streaming platforms are going to be the main entertainment source for billions of consumers all over the world, and for good reason.

Streaming allows viewers with the freedom to watch what they want when they want, on-demand. This is part of its major appeal, the ability to watch an unlimited number of films and shows. One could even binge through an entire show in one sitting. A habit that is popular among consumers, especially Netflix users.

As a matter of fact, it was Netflix who popularized binging as a habit when they dropped the entire first season of their first originally produced show House of Cards all at once. From then on, a big debate has raged on among streaming giants: binge versus weekly; whether to release shows all at once or weekly like TV shows used to.

For Netflix, binging is certainly the way to go. The streaming giant argues this is the best approach as it prioritizes its millions of customers and younger audiences in particular, who are not used to being left ‘hanging.’ For older generations who started with TV, weekly releases are not much of a bother, although having talked to a number of them I feel that binging is also winning out among this generation.

In fact, one could argue that binging is part of the reason Netflix has become so successful. We all know too well the alluring power of the ‘next episode’ button. ‘Just one more episode’ you keep telling yourself and before you know it you are almost done with the show at 5.00 a.m. and still have work in the morning.

Just like House of Cards, shows like Squid Game and more recently Stranger Things Season 4 continue to prove Netflix’s binge strategy right. These shows have each accrued billions of hours of viewing time ranking them among the most-watched shows of this century. 

And yet, over on Hulu and Disney+ shows such as Only Murders and The Mandalorian have also had impressive runs on their own via a specific episodic release, much like the traditional TV model. Only Murders specifically has been an instant hit accumulating over 444 million minutes of viewing in its first week on the service. This put it in the top five for the week among streaming originals.

Putting aside its hit success, the Steve Martin–Selena Gomez–Martin Short dramedy’s most impressive achievement was that it had gone from being the 99th most in-demand show after a week of its debut to the 19th most in-demand as of September last year.

And perhaps this is the advantage of weekly releases. Contrary to popular modern opinion weekly releases are not outdated, there are audiences who are willing to wait a week or a few days to watch the shows they love. More importantly, they are not older audiences alone. Shows like Mandalorian are geared towards younger audiences but continue to do well despite adopting their episodic release schedules.

In fact, more streaming platforms are choosing to go with weekly releases for their major hits. Disney+, Hulu and even Apple TV now release a lot of their shows episodically with resounding success. And so, we have to question why is it that Netflix continues to stubbornly stick to their binge model in the face of a seemingly industrial switch to the weekly release model. Even with Stranger Things Season 4, the streaming giant had the perfect opportunity to release weekly but still stuck to the binge model releasing the first volume of 7 episodes all at once, with the last episodes set to release in early July.

Moreover, data indicate that the weekly release seems to keep the buzz surrounding the shows for longer and thus helps it to be spread by word of mouth. The binge model on the other hand has a sort of a reverse hockey stick where there is a significant buzz surrounding the week of the release which quickly tapers off after just a few weeks. Squid Game for instance has already lost its appeal after becoming one of Netflix’s most-watched shows. We also expect Stranger Things to follow the same route and lose its appeal presumably after the first week’s release of its final episode.

That said, this doesn’t take away the successes of these shows and Netflix as a whole. In the few weeks that these shows are still ‘hot’, they accrue millions of hours of viewing time majorly due to the FOMO effect. Given how quickly word spread, on the internet more specifically I wouldn’t be surprised if these shows ultimately end up doing better than the weekly releases on other platforms. For instance, I know for sure, that Stranger Things Season 4 has done much better than Obi-Wan Kenobi. This can be down to quality but also be due to the binge model proving to be ultimately superior.

If I seem a little undecided about the debate, it’s because I am. Both these models are proving to be successful for their respective platforms. Maybe in the end it doesn’t really matter what model one goes for. Customers have proven to be flexible with whatever model they are presented, just provided you give them what they really want; entertainment.

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